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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3038


Senator ZAKHAROV(3.43) —On behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources, I present a report on the natural resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory, together with the transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator ZAKHAROV —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to have my speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

On behalf of the members of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources, it gives me great pleasure to table the Committee's report on the natural resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory. In recent years interest in Antarctica has increased and broadened, while debate over the resource potential of the region has reached many public forums. These forums include the United Nations General Assembly-which is presently debating the political and legal status of Antarctica, particularly whether it should be considered the common heritage of mankind-and environmental and conservation groups concerned that the fragile Antarctic environment be protected from damage caused by human activities.

The Committee found the assessment of the resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory-and of Antarctica generally-to be highly subjective and speculative, particularly in relation to mineral resources. Although the whole question of the possible exploitation of mineral resources is being covered during negotiations by Antarctic Treaty parties to establish a Minerals Regime, the Committee believes that technical and economic restraints would in any case prevent the rational exploitation of onshore mineral resources in Antarctica for many years to come. However, technological advances may allow the economic exploitation of offshore reserves of hydrocarbons in the short-to medium-term future, provided political, environmental and legal questions are resolved.

While more is known about the marine living resources of Antarctica due to their exploitation for over 200 years, the Committee remains concerned that the impacts of harvesting these resources are presently only guessed at. With commercial attention now being focussed on the krill and fish resources of the region, the Committee hopes that lessons of the past have been learned, and has recommended that research be conducted into the impacts of marine living resource harvesting before expansion of exploitation above current levels. The Committee has also made a number of specific recommendations aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources-CCAMLR.

The adequacy of existing and proposed Antarctic environment protection and conservation measures was also addressed by many witnesses. The fragility of the Antarctic environment was expressed repeatedly to the Committee. The view was also put that the wildnerness value of Antarctica and its value as a pristine laboratory for scientific research are its most important resources. Evidence presented to the Committee pointed to a number of inadequacies in existing environmental protection measures. To rectify this the Committee has recommended that a Conservation Convention be adopted by the Antarctic Treaty nations to co-ordinate and strengthen existing environmental protection measures, but which would permit resource exploitation under stringent environmental controls.

As a first step the Committee believes that land use priorities should be determined by the Antarctic Treaty nations and a system of multiple land use management established. The Committee regards the proposal to establish the whole of Antarctica as a World Park as impractical and favours a system of multiple land use management. The Committee supports Australia's involvement in the Minerals Regime negotiations and has recommended that Australia during these negotiations have as a basic objective the protection of the unique Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystem. The Committee is pleased to note that the Antarctic Treaty nations have recognised that environmental protection must be a basic consideration of any Antarctic Minerals Regime.

The Committee has also made a number of specific recommendations in the area of environmental protection including: That the scope and purpose of the present system of Specially Protected Areas and Sites of Specific Scientific Interest be reviewed; that the Antarctic environment be granted the same level of protection as is presently afforded to Antarctic flora and fauna; and that international environmental impact assessment procedures be adopted by the Antarctic Treaty nations. The Committee learned of the impacts human activities have already had on the Antarctic environment, particularly in the vicinity of stations. Members of the Committee who visited Australia's Casey station during the 1984-85 summer saw some of these impacts for themselves. However, I am pleased to report that substantial efforts have been made by the Antarctic Division to both clean up and protect the immediate environs of Australia's Antarctic stations.

As mentioned above, the political and legal status of Antarctica has been questioned in the United Nations General Assembly. The Committee is of the view that the Antarctic Treaty and subsidiary arrangements, which have been successful for almost 25 years, should be continued, particularly as the Antarctic Treaty system has shown itself to be capable of adaptation to meet new needs. The Committee concluded that the concept of the common heritage of mankind advocated by some nations is not appropriate for the region. The Committee has therefore recommended that Australia maintain its sovereignty claim and continue to support the Antarctic Treaty system.

In making these recommendations, the Committee has considered the extent to which Australia's Antarctic effort substantiates both its claim to approximately 42 per cent of Antarctica and its right to involvement in Antarctic decision-making. It is the Committee's firm view that the amount of funds allocated to Australia's Antarctic activities are not commensurate with the size of Australia's claim and the importance of Australia being represented in Antarctic decision-making forums. In particular, the Committee believes that Australia's Antarctic scientific program has been appallingly underfunded to date and has recommended that a substantial increase in funds be made to enable a major scientific program to proceed and that priority areas for research be determined including the need for research in the social sciences. The Committee acknowledges the recent increase in funds to Antarctic activities allocated in the 1985-86 Budget, but considers that even this represents only a token gesture in terms of the desirable level of Australia's contribution to scientific knowledge about Antarctica. The Committee believes that if an Australian station is established in the eastern sector of the AAT it should not inhibit a substantial increase in research funding.

For these reasons, the Committee believes there is an urgent need for Australia to re-examine the purpose and objectives of its presence in Antarctica, with a view to establishing a clear sense of direction and overall policy framework. In addition, the Committee has recommended that a comprehensive study be undertaken of Australia's Antarctic transport options. The question of transport of equipment, supplies and personnel to and from Antarctica has been `under consideration' for many years now with various options alternatively favoured and discarded. The Committee has recommended that the study be carried out by an external agency.

On that note, I should like to reiterate the contents of a recent press statement by the Committee regarding the Greenpeace expedition to Antarctica this summer. Transport to Antarctica is a very specialised operation, fraught with difficulties. This has been shown by the plight of the Nella Dan which is an ice strengthened polar vessel manned by an experienced crew. The Committee believes that the risks faced by the Greenpeace expedition are great, the consequences, should assistance be required by the expedition, would be unacceptably costly, in terms of risks to life and equipment and disruption of scientific programs. The Committee therefore urges Greenpeace to reconsider its plan.

Other issues on which the Committee has made recommendations include: The need for an assessment of the resource potential of icebergs; the need for Antarctic tourism to be controlled to ensure minimum environmental damage; that the necessity of establishing permanent marine reserves and sanctuaries to protect potentially endangered species be examined; and that an external agency review the adequacy of the Antarctic Division's selection and training procedures.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the present members of the Committee, Senator Robertson, Chairman during the last Parliament and former Senator Primmer who served as Chairman until 30 June this year, and Senator Georges, who served in the early stage of the inquiry, for their assistance and co-operation. I thank all the individuals and organisations who made submissions or assisted the Committee in any other way. I would like to thank the Honourable Barry Jones, Minister for Science for facilitating the visit of Committee members to Antarctica during the 1984-85 season, the staff of the Antarctic Division, especially the personnel on Voyage 4 and the staff at Casey Station. Finally, I would like to thank the staff who worked on this inquiry, particularly Peter Roberts (Secretary) Judy Ryan, Pippa Carron and Jane Palmer (Research Officers) and June Fallick (Steno-secretary). I commend the report to the Senate.


Senator ZAKHAROV —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.